Autonomous shuttle experiments move up a gear

A new phase has begun for the ENA project, winner of the call for projects for the Experiments with Autonomous Road Vehicles (EVRA), which was issued in November 2019 as part of the Future Investments Programme (PIA). The "autonomous shuttle experiments", coordinated by Université Gustave Eiffel (formerly IFSTTAR), has a budget of €15 million, €2.3 million of which was earmarked for the university.

Since April 2018, ENA has mobilised some fifteen researchers from six laboratories who have been discussing, preparing and designing the project. The first full-scale tests of autonomous shuttles will begin at Transpolis, a city lab in the Ain Département. "We are in the test design phase. We are developing the critical scenarios, i.e. all the potentially dangerous situations that the vehicle will encounter on the road," explains Philippe Vezin, a senior researcher at the LBMC (Biomechanics and Impact Mechanics Laboratory) and who is coordinating the project. In these first tests, we will be working on the shuttle's route in Sophia Antipolis, one of the three ENA project sites. "This technology park is one of the largest in Europe and traffic conditions at the site can be quite bad. The project plans to deploy two autonomous shuttles to provide a service between the bus stop and a number of firms” the researcher explains. “We have therefore assessed the risk section by section and are even going to rebuild a roundabout at Transpolis". The tests are carried out on a track in a secure environment with fake pedestrians or cyclists.

The criticality assessment is expected to continue until September. The tests will then be supplemented by studies on passenger comfort, and, in particular, speed. Currently, the shuttles can travel at between 15 and 18 km/h. The aim is to find out how passengers (5 seated, 7 standing at most) will react on board. Later, when the shuttles are deployed in field trials, major surveys with all the stakeholders will be undertaken to ascertain their acceptability.

"These autonomous shuttles supplement existing transport services, but do not replace them. They will mainly operate on the last mile," explains Philippe Vezin. “There will also be an operator on board”. At Sophia Antipolis, the shuttles could be operational by the first half of 2021.

The second area to take part in the ENA project is located in the Département of Indre, in the Cœur de Brenne community of municipalities. In this rural area, an autonomous shuttle is planned to run on a 17 km loop between four municipalities, which are currently poorly interconnected. Thanks to the shuttle, residents may be able to make several daily journeys. Tests are scheduled for 2021.

Finally, Nantes Métropole wishes to provide a better public transport service to its airport. In the planned project, autonomous shuttles would run from the T3 tramway line. Experiments will take place during next year.

With 16 experiments carried out in France as part of the ENA and SAM (Safety and Acceptability of Autonomous Driving and Mobility) projects, the players in the autonomous vehicle sector are seeking to create a "shared asset". They are thus working to provide the authorities with a basis for national regulations for autonomous shuttles.

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